This puzzle piece appeared in our daughter’s room when she was a toddler. We have never worked out where it came from – but through it God spoke to me about being one small part of God’s big picture – and now it sits framed in my office to remind me.
When it comes to matters of justice; migration, discrimination, poverty, and more, I often feel overwhelmed by their scale and great need, or intimidated by the amazing contributions of others who strive for justice. What difference can I make? How can I be good enough?
Reading so many inspiring #MyJusticeJourney threads this week has been overwhelming at times too. But for me, that’s where this single puzzle piece comes in. I am only one piece in God’s big picture – a picture I don’t control or fully see. But that is enough. I am enough.
This puzzle piece reminds me God has not made me responsible for solving every injustice in the world. God has made me me, responsible for my small piece. Offering my gifts and graces, passions and skills as one piece among many that make up God’s big justice jigsaw.
Humbly offering what I can, in the opportunities God places before me, to contribute to seeking justice. One piece at a time. Because I am enough.
In a pastoral conversation this week the person I was talking to reminded me of a story of a congregation turning up to a first service with their new minister. The congregation was full of expectation but the new minister was nowhere to be seen. The only person that was to be seen was a homeless person curled up just outside the front door asleep.
As the service began it was announced that the minister hadn’t turned up, when low and behold the homeless person walked up to the front, laid their sleeping back down and took off their coat to reveal themselves as the new minister. The congregation were shocked, and guilty that they had all ignored their sleeping homeless guest.
21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’
23 He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”’ 24 And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers[d] in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’
28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Our gospel reading today reminds us that God works in the unexpected places. Jesus is in Nazareth, and people can’t believe it is Joseph’s son. Jesus talks of how a prophet is not welcome in their hometown. Not welcome in their familiar surroundings. The words familiar and family come from the same Latin root, as words talking about the known and the intimate. It seems that here Jesus sows the seed that God may well call us out of our known and comfortable places to the unfamiliar and unexpected.
Follow Up: as the reading goes on, Jesus talks of God’s provision for Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and Naaman (2 Kings 5), both people who were deemed at the time to be ‘outside’ of the community of God’s people.
Read their stories and reflect on what God is saying to you through them today.
Today’s thought for the day is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
The stage was set… The house lights dimmed… Silence… Waiting… Watching… Anticipation building.
Then with great gusto, The orchestra begin to play, The curtain begins to rise… The stage is revealed, and the show begins.
I still remember my first trip to the West End. Anticipation was strong. We knew the story we were about to witness, Yet we didn’t know quite how they would do it on the stage.
So as we sat there, We sat between the known and unknown, intensifying the anticipation of what was coming… The knowing made the waiting even more electrifying. The unknowing made the waiting more exciting.
That image, for me, captures the essence of Advent, A time of waiting in expectation, Between the known and the unknown, Remembering what was. Waiting and watching for what will be.
Waiting inhabits most areas of our lives, in one way or another. Sometimes waiting passes by unnoticed. At others, waiting is a heavy millstone around our necks.
Sometimes waiting can be a joyous and uplifting time, At others, it can be draining of all life.
And over the last 2 years waiting has taken a whole new meaning for us… waiting for our turn in the vaccine roll out, waiting for another news conference, waiting to know if there will or will not be more changes to the way we live our lives….
In Luke 1:39-45 we read of Mary and Elizabeth. Both are pregnant… Unexpectedly pregnant in fact… Both families have been visited by angels foretelling something of what will happen.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
Amidst all the unknowns… Amidst the crazy uncertainty…,. Elizabeth somehow knows Mary carry’s God’s promised one… She doesn’t know how, what, why… But she knows that this baby would be a fulfilment of God’s promise.
How it must have felt for Mary and Elizabeth, Having a glimpse of what might be coming, A glimpse of what God was doing, Yet not really knowing God’s plan at all.
There must have been more q’s than answers. But they were willing. They trusted. Waited.
2000 or so years on, we’re in a different place… The promised Messiah came Jesus came, lived, ministered, died, rose again. Left the Spirit of God with us.
All could be made well with the world… Peace, hope, harmony, justice, righteousness, clarity….
2000 years on, perhaps the world isn’t quite so different as we sometimes like to think. Humankind might have progressed, but thw world is still a mess.
While I don’t think any of you are expecting to give birth to a son of God any time soon…we are all also like Mary & Elizabeth.
We’re human. Still human. Still live with anxiety, fear. We live with questions. We live with uncertainty.
For me, there’s something about the known and unknown of the season of advent, the watching and waiting which reminds me that God is as much in the waiting, uncertainty and the unknown, as everything else.
As Advent reminds us of what was, is and will be, We are reminded we worship a God who’s work has not finished. Has never finished. Advent reminds us to keep watching… Watching for glimpses of the God in our daily lives. Watching for the activity of God in the world. Watching for God’s invitation to us to participate in that activity.
For that is God’s gracious and generous offer to us. Inviting we watchers and waiters to participate in the continuing work of God. So, keep watching. In advent and in all our days…
As a parent of two young girls, I have a duty of care to them. Before they were born my wife and I would fairly often both be out of the house in an evening; we were both in a choir, my wife did some amateur dramatics, I would sometime have church meetings, most months we would head out for a meal or to the cinema, or have an evening out with friends.
But having children means we can no longer choose to head off on our own paths without considering others, because we now have a duty and responsibility to care for these small people we have the privilege to call ours.
The combination of moving away from friends in Cornwall, my becoming a minister, as well as the more recent pandemic means that;
A) only one of us can be out in an evening unless we make arrangements for someone else to look after them for us, and
B) that most evenings now involve Louise and I binge-watching the latest series we’ve take a fancy to on Netflix.
Our commitment to, and love for, our children leads us to ensure at least one us is present to care for them.
Here in these words from John 17, we find part of a long and winding prayer the gospels records Jesus prays to his father for his friends. For his band of disicples, and for all those who call Jesus friend. Because Jesus knows he is about to be taken from them. These people, his friends, who he loves and has been committed to are soon going to be without him.
Jesus is painfully and heart wrenchingly praying to the father for his friends who he will soon depart from. That they will be entrusted to God’s care, that they will belong to God and God will protect them as they seek to live out Christ’s example to them in the world.
I firmly believe in this moment of heart-outpouring prayer of Jesus 2000 years ago, Jesus prayed a prayer that was prayed beyond the confines of time and history – that in that moment Jesus prayed for each of us too.
That each of us who call Jesus friend was held in his mind, his heart, his voice, his prayer. Jesus prays for us, for me, for you.
Jesus prays that just as he belongs to the father, just as he has a close relationship with father – so too might his friends have such a relationship.
So too might his friends belong to God, and all that is light and truth and freedom, while living and serving in the world.
Jesus makes a distinction between those who belong to the world, who seek and serve the earthly kingdom of materiality, individualism, greed and selfishness, and those who belong to God, people who seek God’s kingdom. Those who recognise, affirm and respond to the stirrings of God’s Spirit abiding within them.
Jesus’ prayer for his friends and for us, and asks that we may be in the world, in the thick of human life and activity, yet belonging not to the world, but to God. That we may be distinctive in the world – ‘sanctify them in truth’ he prays – which means make them holy. (17:17)
What does it mean to be Holy?
We’ll, let’s be honest, perhaps it will take a lifetime of living as friends of Jesus, and experiencing for ourselves what it means to belong to God to know what it means to be holy.
But I suggest to you, that to be holy, as a disticntive of God’s people, is about a heart for seeking God and God’s kingdom. Responding to God’s reaching for us, by reaching for God, and allowing God to inhabiting within ourselves, and bear the fruit of the very goodness and graciousness of God as we live and walk in the world.
And that goodness, that fruitfulness, that abiding connectedness between us and God is what Jesus prays over us.
Do you ever get stuck knowing how to end a letter or an email? I don’t write letters very often, but send many emails, and often pause as I end wondering what the most appropriate ending might be. ‘Every blessing’, ‘best wishes’, ‘regards’, ‘in Christ’. Since the pandemic began I often use ‘in peace and hope’.
I find it fascinating that 2 of the 4 gospels in the bible sort of have 2 endings. Mark has a shorter and longer ending in chapter 16 – depending on which original texts you look at. Often our bibles make this clear with headings and footnotes.
Headings and footnotes don’t usually appear in the same way in John – but it is also thought to have a first and second ending. When we read it, chapter 20 feels to have a natural end – but then, goes on with chapter 21. Many scholars think (though not all!) that chapter 21 was added to the text of John’s gospel at some stage after the first version of the gospel was created.
All the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are stories of persuasion and intrigue and encouragement. Stories of the life of Jesus, the impact he had on the communities he travelled through, and the lives he touched and transformed.
Each gospel comes from a different perspective and was written for differing communities and audiences. Some repeat stories told in other gospels; others hold stories unique only to them. Few stories occur in all 4.
After telling its version of the story – John’s gospel comes to its first end as we read the last verses of John 20:
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Keep on believing
The phrase interpreted here as ‘may come to believe’ can equally be interpreted as may continue believing, or keep on believing.
Some scholars believe this second translation is in fact the one intended by John’s author. They argue that one of the key principles of John’s gospel is that it was written not only to persuade and encourage people to believe, but equally, if not primarily, to encourage and sustain the continuing believing of a persecuted and struggling community, who were not the original witnesses to its story.
The text we now call John’s gospel comes from, probably, around 70AD, 40 or so years on from Jesus’ ministry. The text therefore comes from a point in history where the Jesus-story was being passed on from the original witness to the next generation. This generation, who’s faith up to now had been sustained by the original witnesses, were now themselves the custodians of the story. These custodians needed encouragement to continue believing the story and sharing its life-giving power with others, despite the fact they were not original witnesses.
2000 years on, the story continues to be passed on, so I think we can say they did an ok job.
Before we get to this first ending of the gospel, we have read another important story –Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the disicples.
They are locked in a room together, grieving, fearful, lost. And into that room filled with uncertainty and fear Jesus appears and says, “peace be with you.” and breathes on them saying “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
John’s gospel begins with the word that was with God and was God (1:1) – who comes to dwell among us (1:14). An echo of the story of origin that we find in Genesis 1. Now, as we reach a climax to John’s gospel the word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, now breathes the very presence of God upon us.
This promised presence flows throughout the story that is John’s gospel. In chapter 14 Jesus promises the comforter will come to remind what Jesus has taught them and continue teaching more of the story to the community. (John 14:26)
The story lives on
John’s gospel reminds us that what we read in scripture is not the whole story – that the gospel story lives on through the very presence of God – the Holy Spirit – living among us. There is more the be taught, more to be reminded, more to be said. [hence, perhaps, chapter 21 gets added in!]
If the story lives on among us and within us, that means our stories become part of the gospel story – the good news story – that is the transforming life and love of Jesus among us.
So while here in John we are told here is enough of the story that you can believe and keep on believing, by God’s presence with us and in us we too have our own stories to tell of how our human story and God’s story have entwined. Stories of our experince of our lives transformed by the transforming life of Christ.
These stories we can share remind us and witness to the truth that God’s presence is with us, and they encourage us and others to keep on believing.
So friends, what story are you going to tell today?
Happy Easter! We’ve journeyed through Lent, through Holy Week, and now we’re here. We can eat an Easter Egg – if you haven’t already that is and celebrate the story of the resurrection of Jesus.
Have you ever been treated for shock? Perhaps sat with a sugary tea after something that you have witnessed or has happened to you? I remember having to lie down in the woods after breaking my wrist in my teens and going into shock.
Well the story of the Resurrection begins with shock. After a tumultuous week where their leader had been taken from them and crucified, you can perhaps begin to imagine just how emotionally and spiritually vulnerable they were already. Some of the women had journeyed to the tomb that morning and found Jesus body gone, and an angel greeting them.
“Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here, he is risen. Go tell the disicples that Jesus goes ahead of you to Galilee and you will see him there.”
(Paraphrase of Mark 16:5-8)
We might think the women would be filled with joy and celebration – Jesus is alive! But we are told, they are seized with amazement and terror – and so ‘they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ I think they were in shock. Needing some time to let the news sink in.
Eventually the women do tell the disicples – and the disciples meet the risen Jesus and are filled with joy and wonder!
In very different circumstances, we have had a year that has shocked us and shaken us. But the truth of Easter remains the same. Jesus has risen – and that sends shockwaves around the world until the end of time.
God knew the world was a mess, God could see the mess. And so God sent Jesus, and while some of the reasoning is surrounded in mystery, and quite a lot of debate, somehow, through Jesus’ life, and death and resurrection, the deepest and strongest love that has ever existed is outpoured onto the world, and onto us. Friends – hear me today – share with you this shockwave that comes to the world, and to you – you are loved. You are forgiven. You can find freedom. Yes you.
The Easter shockwave does all that – with hope and with certainty.
But it doesn’t end there. Jesus invites us into a relationship, a partnership, a journey. To be partners in the shockwave of a story that is filled with mystery and wonder. Joy and celebration. Where we are loved, forgiven and free.
And just as we are a diverse human race, that journey looks different for all of us.
Ask anyone who has partnered with Jesus – and they will tell a different story of mystery and wonder and joy. But threaded through them all, is the truth that we are loved, forgiven and free.
Folks, today I invite you into the journey that is the shockwave of Easter.
If you want to know more, and I really hope you do, get in touch with me or your local church to share your story, and discover the threads of love, forgiveness and freedom that Jesus has already woven for you.